There’s a scene in the epic movie “Patton”, where the namesake’s character walks along the plains of the ancient battlefields of Carthage in Africa and says, “I was here”, believing himself reincarnated as a great leader.
As I sit at the end of what’s been an exhausting day for Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous State, and its capital city Melbourne, I can see scenes in my mind’s eye of families crowded around wood panelled radios in World War 2, as the BBC relayed the latest news of German successes in France foreboding the imminent threat of the Nazi menace for the British Isles.
I can hear the laughter of the comedy programming, the musical crescendos of the radio plays, and the odd rap on the window of an air raid warden yelling to shut the blackout curtains tighter lest a dim glow might somehow give the island’s positions away.
Tonight, Sunday August 2, is the start of Melbourne’s first ever curfew. A first since the State’s founding. Those not at work, providing compassionate care or seeking medical attention rest inside. And there they’ll stay from 8pm to 5am each night over the next six weeks. Its aim is to clear the streets to stop the untraced community spread of Covid-19, causing close to a 1000 new cases a day.
So, I sit. Yet, I don’t feel any sense of a nation at war.
I don’t find any solace on the TV nor any useful information from the sparse 24/7 cable news services. Australia really only has one—Sky News still run for Rupert Murdoch’s Fox. It’s as useful to a patriotic Australian as a Joseph Goebbels news rag or an issue of Joseph Stalin’s Pravda; hyped, biased and intended solely to drive partisan fear.
As for prime ministerial concern, Victorians today only heard a whisper—and nothing of support from its neighbouring States, particularly those like New South Wales on the verge of their own new Covid-19 wave. Nothing of, “We’ll get through this together because we are all intertwined”.
No, it’s just Victorians on their own delegated as protectors of their nation from infection spread. Victoria, particularly Melbourne, is a bit like Wonderland tonight.
We’re absolutely drained by a past three weeks of a partial lockdown that achieved nothing. And we’re tired of the national rhetoric that still puts economics before life.
You know, there aren’t even flags flying at half-mast around the country to honour the recent dead—largely from a generation that served Australia in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The generation that gave us rock, folk and pop. No recognition of their passing in hospital seclusion, separated from family, in abject mismanaged aged care confusion.
Yes, I feel I was there during the Blitz of London when bombs fell day and night through 1940 and later the Doodlebugs and V2 rockets. My family did live through it, but I’m a kid of the 1960s surely too young then to be reincarnated in any form like a Hannibal-as-General Patton.
“War is politics by other means”, people often paraphrase Carl von Clausewitz saying. But if so, then war is such a sad place without a political leadership sufficient to buoy its nation’s population into the fight.
We have nothing like that in Australia tonight. Just a cold winter’s darkness as the clock ticks on.
Covid-19 is as real a threat to Australia as Hitler’s Luftwaffe flying overhead unloading tons of high explosive bombs. Yet, here we rest in our shelters, thoroughly confused about this war and why it wasn’t parried with any tenacity way back in March when we had a chance.
There’s no Churchill tonight to assure us of victory. No airwaves to unite us in good spirits. No songs to trumpet our tears away. Just the piles of rubble of a national budget, more important to our parliament than life.
At least fly the country’s flags at half-mast, prime minister!
At least thank Victorians for the sacrifices they must bear alone for the whole. A third time locked away due to errors on both sides of the political fence. At least address your nation.
Never forget that Hannibal’s empire was laid to waste by a pandemic virus too. It was called the Senate and People of Rome.
© 2020 Adam Parker.
Picture credit: US Armed Forces Radio, public domain.